What software to learn first

You can export from AutoCAD (and I believe Solidworks) as a PDF, so you’re great to use those.
Agreed, if you have to pick one package pick a vector program like Illustrator or Inkscape, and if you’re going to pick two add a CAD package like Sketchup and Fusion360.


@rpegg, maybe @dan should throw in a copy of Robot Turtles to anyone who upgrades to the pro! slightly more seriously, thanks for the advice glowforge community, reading some of these posts and comments took me from on the fence to going for it.

I’m still uncertain where laser cutting will lead me so am not speaking from experience, but it seems to me that good answers to your question will depend at least a little on what you intend to make with your Glowforge. I’m guessing that artistic stuff, like engravings and line art will need something like Illustrator ($$$) or Inkscape (free) and mechanical objects with assemblies of laser cut parts will benefit more from CAD software like SolidWorks ($$$), Sketchup (free), Fusion 360 (free or $), Onshape (free or $$) or others. The benefit of 3D CAD software is that you can use that to more easily design inter-related parts that need to fit together. If you want to build kinetic sculptures, the more advanced features of the better CAD programs will let you simulate the motion of the linked parts. Search here for orerry or kinetic sculpture to see examples.

I use GeoMagic Design (previously known as Alibre) or Onshape for CAD and both of them can export files (typically 2D drawings of a 3D part) as a DXF file which GF should be able to use for cutting.

For 2D line art, I have Microsoft Visio and recently downloaded Inkscape. Both of those can export or save DXF or SVG files. Apparently, SVG is also a good file format for the Glowforge.

If you are proficient in photoshop, and have access to illustrator, then start with that and follow some tutorials on youtube to get you going. lot of similarities between IL and PS.


I just thought I’d pop in to mention that US and Canadian military veterans can get SolidWorks Student Edition for $20.



I personally have been using DCAD, which is a free 2D Cad program, that natively saves to .DXF formats. Compared to other CAD programs, this one has one of the lowest system requirements.

I’ve really liked the SketchUp and Inkscape combination to get started. If you’re new to 3D modeling they are a very easy starting point. I have some tutorials on SketchUp on my youtube channel:


Once you have learned all the basics, then you might want to invest some time in a more complicated but more powerful program. I’m currently evaluating a couple to see what they can do. I’m now looking at openSCAD and Rhino (with GrassHopper or Python scripting).

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Just a caution for Sketchup (which I adore and use daily): SU doesn’t create true curves, only facets. (example: circles are really polygons)
Those facets can be tiny if you create them correctly, but nonetheless, an important distinction if you’re making anything with tight tolerances or requires a fluid line.
Illustrator, Inkscape and Autocad will make true curves.


I just downloaded Fusion360 (for mac, free with the enthusiast/startup license) and went through the first set of tutorials… remarkably easy to get my head around. 3D software has come a long, long way since the last time I messed with it… which would have been 3DStudioMax in 2001. iMac did pretty darn well, which surprised me, although rendering kicked the fans onto high (first time I’ve heard them).

@jbv, Don’t forget to try Rhino. It’s known to be the best. And NURBS are a cool way to model. I never liked the way 3DSmax worked, so I feel your pain.

What about CorelDraw? Any ideas on that?

@rlreseck, I do almost all of my 2D design/vector work in CorelDraw and plan to use it with the GlowForge. I have asked Dan about direct support for CorelDraw and he said that was in the idea hopper. I prefer CorelDraw to Illustrator for a number of reasons but mostly because it’s what I know best. I have used it since the late 1990s. For a while in the early 2000s, I worked with Illustrator but eventually drifted back to Corel. I use it for graphic design and for some of my CNC router work. I just had a garage/office/studio built and created the floor plans, section views, and trim details in CorelDraw. It is relatively easy to learn the basics but it does require some effort through experimentation or watching training videos to learn all the advanced features.

Thanks for the reply, John. I’m the same way. I’ve used Corel since version 3 and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I did documentation for some of PPG’s paint division years back and used it for the illustration. I’ve never tried illustrator although I probably should. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, right? Thanks again.

Even if there is not direct support between CorelDraw and the Glowforge, CorelDraw does export in formats that the GF will accept. That’s how I work with my vinyl printer/cutter - exporting from CorelDraw as EPS directly into the RIP software.

This is in response to the Solidworks Software

Make sure you check the system requirements carefully including the graphics card. Software only uses graphics cards that are designed for CAD systems and not for general use or gaming. Otherwise it is a great deal for vets.

Not sure about that. I have a GTX 780 running SW perfectly. In a VM no less. You just need anything better than a stock ‘on-board’ video card and something with dedicated VRAM (1GB or better) Other in than that you’re golden.

Workstation graphics cards apparently help, but they aren’t required. As far as I understand it, SolidWorks does the majority of its processing on the CPU. The graphics card is apparently used to render the viewport and do final renderings, but I can’t tell if it’s being used for anything else.

If I increase the detail level of a model I can hear my CPU cooler spin up (sometimes for half a minute or so), but the cooler on the graphics card stays steady (as far as I can perceive). I have a high end workstation graphics card, so I’m assuming it would be utilized if SolidWorks was capable of it.

One thing you will miss out on if you don’t have a “workstation” card is something called “RealView Graphics”, which makes the viewport look better.

So, the short version is: you probably aren’t going to be running it effectively on a netbook, but a desktop with a decent video card should get you by.

A three-button mouse is basically required, but here’s a vid of it technically running on an original Surface Pro.

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Hey all. Appreciate this thread. Not very tech savvy here.

Just to clarify above posts, can I use Sketch Up alone to create, save and print to the Glowforge? Or do I also need to be able to export it to Inkscape to create the PDF files?(as @polarbrainfreeze did)

Looking for a lower learning curve to be able to engrave/cut plywood, acrylic shapes for scale modeling.


You can do most of your creating in Sketch Up, usually folks just drop the results into Inkscape for conversion and resave it as an SVG format file. (If Sketch Up exports SVG or PDF files you can skip that step, but if not, it’s one step and not difficult.)